Brooke Manning is the creator/owner/operator of Likely General, one-of-a-kind, handmade arts, crafts and gift shop in Toronto’s west end. She’s also the buyer and curator of the art gallery in the back of the store at 389 Roncesvalles Ave.
Likely General was established in 2013 and opened its doors that July.
Brooke shares why opening a general store was so important to her, along with her journey to business success and the lessons she has learned along the way.
- What about the “general store” environment is so intriguing to you?
It was important for me to open a space that could be ever changing, growing, and developing. We sell and do a little bit of everything so that label just sort of fits with what we do.
- Tell me about the first time you entered a general store… What was it like? How did you feel? What did you buy?
Our space is very different from the general stores I grew up with. I am from a small town and that is where we went to buy everything from bread to gifts to candy. I remember feeling very comforted by the familiarity of the items and people as well as the sense of community. We definitely try to carry those feelings over to Likely; building community and comfort is very important to me.
I believe in creating a space that isn’t just a shop but a community hub, a safe space for all to shop or hang out. We have workshops and events that centre around each artist, as well as openings in our gallery the first Thursday of every month.
I suppose we are more of an art-based general store. We don’t sell food but our focus is on hand-crafted pieces, multiples, and books that are built with integrity in order to bring the consumer closer to the maker, and closer to the understanding of what it takes to produce something by hand. We truly believe that less is more and items should be made to last.
- Was operating a store with handmade goods and gifts something you always saw yourself doing?
Owning my own space was always something I was interested in doing, and from a very young age. My grandmother used to volunteer at the hospital auxiliary shop and I used to go with her on the weekends. I loved arranging things with her, talking with and helping customers. After graduating arts school, I had a better understanding of what kind of space I wanted to open. It was just a matter of quitting my other jobs, creating a plan, getting a loan and taking the plunge.
- What was your first job? How did that first job shape your career?
My first ever job was a lifeguard, swim, and synchronized swimming instructor. I was also a camp counsellor and I developed programs at our local YMCA that are still happening currently. After university, I spent several years touring with music, nannying for musicians on tour and working restaurant and coffee shop jobs while planning what my career move would be in terms of creating a space. My involvement in my community and school at a young age probably influenced what I do now a great deal.
- What do you like about Toronto’s west end?
I like it’s art scene, restaurants, parks, and bars – it’s probably where I spend most of my time, in the west end, but I love other areas of Toronto too.
- Do you have a favourite place to find inspiration in the city? Second to that, have you always lived in Toronto?
I’ve lived in Toronto for 12 years now and I love it. Inspiration is everywhere. I love seeing what my friends are making and how they work to integrate art into the city scape. I love seeing live music at small venues like the Holy Oak. I find inspiration in the outspokenness of our feminist and queer communities, our music and poetry communities. I love the Raptors and I find our sports teams inspiring also. The island is a constant source of inspiration and High Park is a place I go almost daily with my dog to reset myself.
- What’s the best part about getting to share beautiful, creative products with your customers and clients?
I genuinely LOVE the joy that someone gets from buying a special handmade piece but it is an amazing thing to hand a maker a cheque or to see the way they light up when they understand or hear that someone values what they do so deeply. It’s a really beautiful cycle and I am grateful to be a part of it.
- What’s the hardest part about your role with Likely General?
I’m a bit of a workaholic and I have my hands in many pots beyond Likely. Sometimes the hardest part is learning to say no but I am quickly learning the art of self-care. The behind the scenes work can sometimes be challenging too (bookkeeping, accounting, managing accounts, email, newsletters, e-commerce and building the website), but only because I take it on myself and am still learning as I go.
- Are you a one-person army? Or do you have others on your team to help?
I have amazing friends and a great partner that help me when I am stuck. I’m a better person and a better entrepreneur for having the community, friend, and family support that I do. I also have friends who own stores (like the amazing Kerry of Frances Watson or Rachel of Penny Arcade) who are constant inspirations to me in regards to work ethic and transparency.
- What do you do when you’re not working at Likely General?
I write poetry and prose, play music and I am the Assistant Editor of a poetry publication called The 4 Poets. When I am not working at Likely, or doing those things, I am taking time to be with my partner, time to be alone and taking time with my dog in nature. Alone time and stillness are very important to me.
- What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs across Canada with aspirations of becoming a business owner?
If you feel in your heart that this is for you, you should at least give yourself the chance to try. Let the fear propel you into something and let it continue to fuel you to keep going, keep creating, keep asking questions, keep answering them, keep challenging yourself. Understand that you will never stop working and the hours of an entrepreneur are never-ending (unlike a 9-5) but it is very rewarding work if you are made for it.
- What social media tool do you find does the most for your brand?
Absolutely Instagram – I love it. It has helped to build a brand and a community. We use it to interact with people in a genuine way, share our offerings at the shop, and we’ve even used it to find lost dogs in the community. It’s a very powerful tool that works for us perfectly. I don’t really believe in paid advertising and I want our integrity to speak for itself – word of mouth is powerful and honest and that’s what matters to me.
- I am obsessed with flowers and candles (oh my goodness, I have so many candles). If you could have one product in your home for forever, what would it be? Why?
Do dogs count? Just joking. It’s funny because I’m not big on possessions but if I could have anything in my home forever, I do love the light that candles produce and fly through them for that reason. I also love incense, and I love books very, very much.
- What do you see in Likely General’s future?
Well, that’s tricky; I can’t take what we are doing for granted, not even for a day. I’m lucky to be here, lucky to be supported, and I can’t think about anything else too much but of course I would like to grow and expand, and I do have big plans for the future of Likely but I’m taking it day by day and holding those cards closely.
Thank you Brooke for taking the time to answer our questions! We can’t wait to hear what else is in store for Likely!